My Testimony ~ I Left

Hi! My name is John Shrock, and I grew up in an Amish community in Wisconsin. I was the fourth child, with 7 younger siblings. I would like to share a little bit of my story – where I came from and who I am today.

My family had a dairy farm, so at a very young age, I started doing chores like cleaning the barn and helping feed the calves. I did a little less when I started school at age six. Our one-room school house was a quarter mile up the road where I went with about 20 other students. The other kids liked to pick on me because I had an anger problem; they realized how much fun it was to make me mad. I would throw my lunch bucket at people when they made me mad because they always made fun of me for not being able to properly pronounce some difficult words. There was always a reason for my teacher to punish me every day, so I missed at least one of the three recesses. I had to put my head down on the desk and cover my eyes for the entire recess (which was sometimes an entire hour).

At age ten, I started working on the farm again, getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to milk the cows. During summer break from school, I helped rake hay, weed the corn fields, etc. Because I only had one older sister, I also had to help my mom with things in the garden and the house, such as cleaning the dishes (which was a shame for an Amish boy as that was deemed “women’s work”). At age fourteen, when I completed my eight years of Amish private school, I also started working part-time for other Amish families during the day. This work varied from working in a greenhouse to building barns.

I enjoyed that until several months before I turned sixteen, when I began having some problems with the Amish rules. There was always a feeling that I never could be good enough to stay out of trouble. Despite my anger problem, I had tried to be a good Amish boy for the most part. I wanted to do good because I had been taught that I had to be good if I wanted to get to Heaven. I struggled much with this and didn’t know what to do about it. One Sunday afternoon, while I was throwing down hay for the cows, I prayed to God, “God I know I don’t know you. I want to know you.”

By the time I turned sixteen, I had given up hope of ever being good enough, and started to rebel. I purposely did stuff wrong and didn’t care. I wanted to be popular and have friends, and it sure was a lot easier to have more friends while being a rebel Amish kid. I started doing small things like bending my hat down too far in the back (which was against the rules) and did more and more as time went on. My dad saw the changes in me and blamed it on the one family I had been working for. These were my absolute favorite people to work for, so I hated my dad for saying negative things about them. Dad was trying to get me to not like them, but the results were the exact opposite, causing a strong dislike for my dad.

The mom of that family was diagnosed with cancer, so I disliked my dad even more. One evening, in November of that same year, I made my last visit to see her. She was hardly able to move and gave me a weak smile as I walked in. This was extremely hard for me, yet not as hard as getting the news several weeks later that she had passed. I hadn’t helped them much after the snow fell that year, but now I went and helped them till after the funeral. She had been like a second mom to me when I worked for them, and now she was gone. As I drove my horse and buggy home that day, I cried. Oh, it was so hard to lose someone that I loved! I started getting even more bitter at my dad for the stuff that he had said about that family.

I was so bitter that when my dad would say a joke, I wouldn’t laugh. I despised anything and everything he stood for, and started thinking about leaving the Amish. When my friend John left the Amish, I started even thinking more about it. However, I was scared to because I still believed, as the Amish had taught me, that if I left the Amish, I would go to hell. Yet it seemed no matter how much I tried to stop those feelings, I couldn’t shake the feeling that leaving would be better.

One morning that spring, while I was plowing a field, I hit a rock that made the plow jump out of the furrow. My dad was right behind me and said, “If I had been doing that, I could have done a much better job.” I didn’t doubt that he could have. He was my dad. Of course he could have done better than me. However, I was extremely angry at him for saying this and called him a großkopf (directly translated “big head”, or someone who thinks very highly of themselves- prideful – and is very offensive to the Amish). He left, but later that day, when I came in from the field for lunch, he was standing there with a belt in his hand. He said to me, “If you think you know everything, you need to whip me.” I was astounded. I had to whip him. This was the worst punishment I had ever faced.

Emotionally, I was tortured by this and despised my Dad and the Amish religion even more because of it. I realized that if I stayed Amish, the punishments would get even worse: especially after I joined the church. I even more seriously started to think about leaving the Amish, yet abhorred myself for thinking such awful thoughts. I couldn’t believe I wanted to leave the Amish. I had to be awful to think like that. After several months of not being able to shake the feeling, I finally gave up. I decided that leaving would be better because I could convince myself of how bad the rest of the world was, happily return to the Amish, and never desire to leave again. The night before I turned seventeen, I made the decision to leave the Amish.  I had enough. I was done.

I was scared…Where would I go? What if I would never see my family again? I couldn’t tell anyone…I had no one to confide in. If I got caught, what would the punishment be? Yet I knew that I had to leave. No! No matter what fear I had to face, I could not stand being Amish anymore.

I made a few attempts using our non-Amish neighbor’s phone to reach another friend of mine who had left the Amish six months before, but with no success. Even though I couldn’t reach him, on a Monday, July 11, 2011, the fear of being caught forced me to leave. I had nowhere to go, so I waited until dark and ran to the barn. I quickly left a note that I had written earlier that day with the words “I Left” on it, and ran for the woods. I ran/walked about five miles until I stopped to take a nap in an old abandoned barn. I woke up long before dawn and continued to run…away. I had no idea where, but anywhere away from the Amish. I hadn’t been able to grab any money, food, or clothing, so I knew that I would have to find a job soon. A little after nine that morning, I started going from farm to farm asking for a job. Shortly after noon, I found a job. I stayed there that night, but the next morning I thought my parents had found out where I was, so I was out on the run again. I walked through a couple towns in Wisconsin until, a little before dark, someone driving along stopped and asked if I wanted a ride.

I was scared to tell him the truth, but I did anyway. He told me how he had met this other guy just a few hours ago who had left the Amish as well. He offered to take me to him, and I accepted his offer with gratitude. I stayed with him until that Saturday, when I went to live and work for a family in Hillsboro, WI. I lay awake thinking about everything that had happened the past week, and it was a long while before I fell asleep that night. I couldn’t imagine what was next…

The next morning, the family invited me along to church. This was another hard thing due to my shyness and not having been to church other than Amish church, which is quite different. During that week, the father of that family made a couple attempts to talk to me about how Jesus died on the cross for me. However, it made me feel guilty due to the fact that I believed that I had to be Amish in order to get to Heaven. Because of that, I didn’t want to read or hear anything from the Bible. The following weekend was the start of NBT (Neighborhood Bible Time) at their church. They invited me, but I purposely worked late that Saturday night in attempt to avoid it. The following Sunday evening, I decided to go to it anyway.

That night, as the preacher talked about my sin, I realized that just like the Bible said, I was on my way to Hell because I was a sinner. I could not pay the penalty for my sin. I was guilty. I did not enjoy the feeling of this guilt, so I attempted to ignore it at first. As I did this though, the preacher continued to explain that I did not have to pay the penalty by going to Hell forever, but rather, I could ask Jesus to save me from Hell because of His death on the cross. The preacher explained that I had to fully depend on Jesus to pay for me. Before, I had been trusting in my own efforts, attempting to be good enough; now, I realized I couldn’t do anything to make it as though I never sinned – God’s standard demanded perfection. I also realized that being part of any religion wouldn’t bring me any closer to God. Instead, Jesus took the penalty for my sin on the cross, and all I needed to do was accept His payment for my sins.

That night, I repented of my sin, and in prayer, I asked Jesus to save me from my sin and the consequences for it. That night, I received my new life in Christ. As the Bible says in 1 John 5:12-13, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” I now knew that when I died, I would go to Heaven; it was not because of what I had done but because of what Christ had done. I had gone from a religion to a relationship with God; I now realized that all this had been His way of answering my prayer when I was fifteen – I wanted to know God, and He had made a way for me to do that. I was forgiven! I was free from my sin! I no longer had to feel guilty about myself because Jesus paid for all my sins!

The following year, I felt the Lord leading me to go to Bible college to get a Pastoral degree. I felt the Lord’s leading to get training so that I could better tell others of Him. I realized that out of love for people, I must tell them about what Christ did for them so that they too can know that they will go to Heaven when they die. I know that some people will get offended, but with love, I must continue on telling people of what Jesus has done in my life and what He wants to do in theirs as well. I must tell people of the freedom from their sins that they can have in Jesus.

In August 2012, I traveled to Fargo, North Dakota (where I currently live) and started my studies at Master’s Baptist College. I aim to tell as many people as I can of the freedom that I have from my sin, and am eternally grateful to God for bringing me from a religion to a relationship with Him. My greatest desire is to see His name lifted up and praised.

I have learned to adapt to many new things: basically a completely different world. Yet, I would never go back. I miss my family, but I now have a new family and many friends as well. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me from the day I left till now. The absolute best thing of all is the fact that through all this, I found the Lord. I would like to thank my “adopted family” for helping me do this by caring more about me than my feelings. They have made a tremendous investment in me: to tell me about Jesus. To my readers, I would like to thank you for reading this, but also ask you a question: Do you know that you will go to Heaven when you die? Have you been made free of your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ? Religion will never suffice to pay for your sins; it is only through a relationship with Christ that freedom from our sin is given. Please allow me to show you how you, too, can have a relationship with Christ here.

John Shrock